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Information Service

By MWIS ambassador, Cory Jones

Ticks may carry a bacteria which can enter our bodies when ticks such our blood. This may cause an illness called Lyme Disease.

What are ticks?
Ticks are small arachnids, about the size of a poppy seed. They are external parasites that live off the blood of birds and mammals – including people.

What do they do?
Ticks live in the soil and emerge to climb tall grass, shrubs, bushes and low level tree branches up to a height of 20-70cm in search of a blood host. They attack when you, or an animal, brushes past and look for an area of soft skin to insert their feeding organ and suck blood. They can attach themselves almost anywhere but prefer dark creases like the armpit, groin and back of the knee. You won’t feel a thing, as the tick injects a toxin to anaesthetise the bite area and once embedded they will steadily engorge as they feed on your blood.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi (Bb), and many popular UK and European climbing and walking areas have Bb-infected ticks. they estimate around 2000 cases per year go unreported.

The most famous symptom of Lyme disease is a bull’s eye rash (erythema migranes), consisting of a red ring-shaped rash which gradually spreads from the site of the tick bite, usually with a fading centre.  Kind of like a browny-red or pink expanding polo mint. It appears 2 – 40 days after infection and is the only sure-fire symptom of Lyme disease – so if you develop one take a photo immediately to show your doctor in case it disappears.

However less than 50% of people with Lyme get this rash. If left untreated a whole range of symptoms can develop, including a flu-like illness, facial palsy, viral-type meningitis, arthritic-like joint pains, nerve inflammation, disturbance of sensation or clumsiness of movement and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

Some people who have been bitten develop a reaction at the bite site and a characteristic red rash and swelling. The rash can appear up to 3 months after being bitten by a tick and usually lasts for several weeks. Most rashes appear within the first 4 weeks.

Not all people develop the rash. Other early symptoms can include fever, joint pain, swelling of limbs and fatigue. Anyone who suspects that they have developed a reaction to a tick bite should visit a GP without delay and mention ticks, Lyme disease and their occupation.

The skin will be red and the edges may feel slightly raised. Note not everyone with Lyme disease gets the rash.

Some people also have flu-like symptoms such as:

  1. a high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery
  2. headaches
  3. muscle and joint pain
  4. tiredness and loss of energy

If you suspect you have Lyme disease then head straight to your GP.

Removal of a tick using tweezers

Attached ticks should be removed promptly. The best method is simply to pull the tick out with tweezers as close to the skin as possible, and avoiding crushing the body of the tick or removing the head from the tick’s body. Alternatively you can use specialist pet tick twisters. The risk of infection increases with the time the tick is attached, and if a tick is attached for fewer than 24 hours, infection less likely.

Alternatively you can use specialist tick twisters or tick cards. The risk of infection increases with the time the tick is attached, and if a tick is attached for fewer than 24 hours, infection is unlikely.

Treating Lyme disease

If you develop symptoms of Lyme disease, you will normally be given a course of antibiotics.

Check out these other sources of information -

Preventing Lyme disease

You can reduce the risk of infection by:

  • wearing appropriate clothing in tick-infested areas (a long-sleeved shirt and trousers tucked into your socks)
  • wearing light-coloured fabrics that may help you spot a tick on your clothes
  • using insect repellent on exposed skin
  • inspecting your skin for ticks, particularly at the end of the day, including your head, neck and skin folds (armpits, groin, and waistband) – remove any ticks you find promptly
  • checking that pets do not bring ticks into your home in their fur
  • keeping to footpaths and avoiding long grass when out walking
  • making sure ticks are not brought home on your clothes
  • checking that pets do not bring ticks into your home in their fur

Useful Links and Information

Other tick borne illnesses

Another treat carried by some ticks in Europe is Tick Borne Encephalitis (TBE) – a viral disease that attacks the nervous system and can result in serious meningitis, brain inflammation and death. TBE incubation time is 6-14 days and at first it can cause increased temperature, headaches, fever, a cough and sniffles. The second phase can lead to neck stiffness, severe headaches, photophobia, delirium and paralysis. There is no specific treatment for TBE.

TBE is endemic in the forest and mountainous regions of Austria, Belarus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and Ukraine.

Tick Alert has produced a guide, which gives clear and easy-to-understand information and advice about TBE in Europe. Download ‘Protect yourself from TBE in Europe’

First Aid Training Co-operative has also developed a digital first aid manual, which can be downloaded to your phone or tablet so it is available to you where ever you are. This is a specialist first aid manual for those working in outdoor remote environments. If you operate in remote locations this means your first aid manual is always in your pocket. 

The author - MWIS Ambassador Cory Jones who is a Director of First Aid Training Co-operative and has been delivering first aid courses for stables and riders for over 15 years.